The Meeting Question

I figure while I am using this blog to answer frequently asked questions in detail, I should try to thoroughly tackle the one that seems to be a small stumbling block for some people. It gets asked less and less and causes confusion less and less as every year goes by, but it still comes up enough that I just thought I would really explain it.

Why don’t You do face-to-face meetings or phone calls?

The answer to this question in brief is:

  1. It saves time.
  2. It saves money.
  3. It minimizes confusion.

But I know this can seem counter-intuitive, so maybe I should do a little comparison:

Anatomy of a Typical Face-to-Face Meeting

9:00 – I stop working on my projects to get presentable and gather materials for meeting.

9:30 – 10:00 – I drive to meeting

10 – 10:15 – I sit in a conference room / coffee shop / office waiting for everyone to arrive.

10:15 – 10:30 – Someone brings out a laptop and reads a brief about what their business is about.

10:30 – 10:45 – Someone shows me links to various web sites and graphics on the laptop.

10:30-11:00 – People ask me questions they have typed up on the laptop. About half of these questions I answer off the cuff, half I write down to research when I get home to make sure I give the most accurate answer.

11:00 – 11:15 – Someone wraps up the meeting with expectations of what will happen next.

11:15 – 11:45 – I drive home.

11:45 – 12:30 – I research the answers to the above questions, try to read my hastily written notes about what was discussed, hope I did not forget anything, and type up a summary email to the client with all of the answers and a detail of what all was discussed.

12:30 – 1:00 – I try to figure out where I was in what I was working on before I left and get myself back into my projects again.

Result: A scheduled one-hour meeting actually takes 4 hours out of my work day, and probably somewhere near as much out of yours.

Anatomy of Same Process by Email

9:00 – I receive email from client which contains the documents from their laptop, all of their questions, and links they want me to look at.

9:00-9:30 – I read over everything, answer all questions, doing research along the way as needed. I send email. (During this same period of time, client is going about their usual business at their job or being with their kids or creating things or having a nap or  . . . )

9:30 – 9:45 – Client receives email, reads responses, possibly types up follow-up questions. (During this period, I am working on other projects.)

9:45 – 10:00 – I read email from client, answer follow up questions, give instructions for next steps and wrap up.

Results: Same amount of progress accomplished, but less than an hour of time has come out of my work on other projects, and much less time has come out of the client’s day. Everything I might need to read and refer to is in my email, and in my client’s email, waiting for me so that I can ensure I do not miss a detail of what was needed. If there is a disagreement later about what we agreed to (rarely happens, but always a possibility) we can both refer back to the emails rather than playing the game of “In the meeting you said that . . . .” and “No, what I said was . . . ”

Now, you may be thinking “If my project is so important to you, you should be willing to give up 4 hours of a day in order to come talk to me about it face to face.” Yes, your project is very important to me. ALL of my projects are very important to me. When we are actually in the stage of the process where I am physically working on your site, would you rather me spend 4 hours of my day doing that work for YOU, getting it right, getting it done efficiently and accurately without distractions, or at meetings with other potential clients getting something accomplished for them that could have been done just as well (or better) in one hour?

Ok, But Phone Calls Don’t Take That Much Time!

I think this is a big misconception—that because I don’t have to drive anywhere or sit around waiting with phone calls, then they are just as efficient as email. But here’s the thing. Phone calls really have most of the same drawbacks as face-to-face meetings: I still need to get all of the materials and links by email anyway so that I can really read them. I still have to write down all of your questions and retype them with a wrap-up later.  I still have to stop what I am working on to take the call. I still will then have to regroup and try to get back in work mode.  When an email hits my inbox, if I am in the middle of some difficult coding, or in a zone with a design, I can wait 15 minutes to answer that email, when I am ready to move on from what I am doing and really focus on what you need.  If the phone rings, either I have to drop what I am doing and switch gears immediately, or I have to let the call go to voice mail – and then there is the inevitable game of phone tag.

When I was still taking phone calls, my phone rang all . . . day . . . long. It is double the work, because not only am I spending the time on the call, I still have to type up everything we discussed to have a written record, and I have had to shift gears in my workflow. I want to give that time to you in results. I want to give you the site you want as quickly as possible so it can start working for you!

But Is a Customized Site Possible When You Haven’t Met Me?

Absolutely, and I have over 200 clients with highly customized web sites to prove it. I have had several clients tell me it was as if I reached right into their brains and created exactly what they wanted, but better.Many of my clients are out of state – so I could not have met with them anyway. They still got exactly the site they wanted, and the whole process was done by email.

For some people, I know this is an insurmountable stumbling block. For these people, I totally recommend they work with someone who does do meetings. Typically your site is going to cost more (because they have to pad their price to cover the meeting time) and take longer (because a lot of their work time every week is spent meeting with clients). But if you really need that, then you should definitely have it.

For some others, they are uneasy with the idea at first, but they always lose that unease as we get into the process and they see how quickly, thoroughly, and easily everything comes together. They often tell me I am so fast! But the reality is that I spent hours sitting and doing nothing but work for them—no distractions, no phone calls, no meetings. Given the chance to just stay in a zone and work on one project, it is pretty amazing how much can be accomplished.